About Defense Tech

Defense Tech examines the intersection of technology and defense from every angle and provides analysis on what’s ahead.

Tip Us Off

Tip for Defense Tech?


It’s Confidential!

Sabra Tech

Israel’s Russian SAM Zapper

Monday, August 11th, 2008


The Jerusalem Post had an article recently on a secret electronic jammer that can render the Russian TOR-M1 and S300 anti-aircraft missiles useless.

If Russia goes through with the sale of its most advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Iran, Israel will use an electronic warfare device now under development to neutralize it and as a result present Russia as vulnerable to air infiltrations, a top defense official has told The Jerusalem Post.

The Russian system, called the S-300, is one of the most advanced multi-target anti-aircraft-missile systems in the world today and has a reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12 at the same time. It has a range of about 200 kilometers and can hit targets at altitudes of 27,000 meters.

While Russia has denied that it sold the system to Iran, Teheran claimed last year that Moscow was preparing to equip the Islamic Republic with S-300 systems. Iran already has TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles from Russia…

…A top IAF officer also said this week that Israel needed to do “everything possible” to prevent the S-300 from reaching the region.

“Russia will have to think real hard before delivering this system to Iran, which is possibly on the brink of conflict with either Israel or the US, since if the system is delivered, an EW [electronic warfare] system will likely be developed to neutralize it, and if that happens it would be catastrophic not only for Iran but also for Russia,” the defense official said.

Neutralization of one of the main components of Russian air defense would be a blow to Russian national security as well as to defense exports. “No country will want to buy the system if it is proven to be ineffective,” the official said. “For these reasons, Russia may not deliver it in the end to Iran.”


Train Cable UAVs Soar

Friday, November 9th, 2007


From Aviation Week’s Ares weblog and posted at Military​.com.

Israeli company Planum Vision is pushing a new type of fixed-route UAV that relies on an electric train cable line. As is the tendency of smaller companies these days, Planum Vision is using YouTube to get the word out. The word being that a fixed-route, train cable UAV, or TCUAV, is ideal for border patrol and protection of military bases by creating an automated surveillance that eliminates the failures associated with flight control, communications and human error.

TCUAV would also be useful in protecting oil pipelines, energy facilities and ports and other transportation hubs, according to the company. It’s not clear the company has any contracts or partners yet, although a related patent application was filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization late last week.

– Christian

Av Week: Another Look at the Israel v Syria Raid

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Israel used several new intelligence-gathering and strike technologies in its raid on Syria. New details of the attack involve a train of capabilities extending from satellite observations to precision bombing of the suspect facility on Sept. 6.

The launch of a new satellite this summer allowed the integration of several advanced technologies including electro-optical imaging from space, image-enhancing algorithms, scene-matching guidance for precision weapons and the use of advanced targeting pods carried by the Israeli Air Force’s two-man F-16Is (the pods are not available on F-15Is).

In a series of interviews, several specialists detailed the technologies and how they were used. “Reality is more impressive than your imagination in some areas,“says a senior military officer.

Space observations provided early planning details for the raid. The important satellite for the Syrian raid was Ofeq-7 launched on June 11th. It has multi-spectral and high resolution electro-optical sensors and a resolution of less than a half-meter, far better than that provided by earlier Israeli satellites.

The space images were then improved by specialized imagery enhancement algorithms to sharpen pictures for planning precision bombing attacks.

The primary aircraft for the Syrian raid were some of the new, two-man Lockheed Martin F-16Is (Sufa or Storm) that Lockheed Martin began delivering to the Israeli Air Force in Feb. 2004. The backseater is a weapons systems officer who can focus on targeting and electronic warfare while the pilot focuses on flying and evading air defenses. Conformal fuel tanks give the fighters an unrefueled combat radius of over 500 mi. which matches the unrefueled range of F-15Is which would normally escort a flight of strike aircraft.

Sensors on the $45 million F-16I include a APG-68(v)9 radar with high-resolution synthetic aperture radar mapping capability and about 30% more range that other mechanically scanned radars.

But more importantly for this raid, the fighter had the Litening targeting pod. Its EO imagery can be used for seeker cueing. That imagery can also be used for scene-matching with the observations made by the satellite.

Read the entire Aviation Week article HERE.

– Christian

What Actually Happened in the Syrian Desert?

Friday, September 21st, 2007

One of the stories thats been intriguing the heck out of me over the past couple of weeks is that Israeli air strike into Syria.

Just today, the most solid facts of the strike have leaked out, but Bush administration officials are still publicly mum on the aerial attack that reportedly took out a nascent nuke capability deep in northern Syria.

The reports show that a North Korean ship docked at a Syrian port just a few days before the strike loaded with a shipment of cement (ya, right…). Heres what the reports are saying:

Unlike its destruction of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, Israel made no announcement of the recent raid and imposed strict censorship on reporting by the Israeli media. Syria made only muted protests, and Arab leaders have remained silent. As a result, a daring and apparently successful attack to eliminate a potential nuclear threat has been shrouded in mystery.

“There is no question it was a major raid. It was an extremely important target,” said Bruce Riedel, a former intelligence officer at Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. “It came at a time the Israelis were very concerned about war with Syria and wanted to dampen down the prospects of war. The decision was taken despite their concerns it could produce a war. That decision reflects how important this target was to Israeli military planners.“

Israel has long known about Syria’s interest in chemical and even biological weapons, but “if Syria decided to go beyond that, Israel would think that was a real red line,” Riedel said.

And something else…

Some current and former American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because information about the raid remained classified, said they believed that the site was involved in Syrias missile program. They said that Israeli intelligence officials believed that they had evidence that the activity at the site involved North Korean engineers believed to work in the nuclear program.

So far, several current and former American officials who have been involved in evaluating the Israeli claims say they are not yet convinced of a nuclear connection. Yet the enormous secrecy around the findings, both here and in Israel, suggests that the activity that prompted the Israeli attack involved more than a run-of-the-mill missile transaction, one official said, noting that the Israelis took considerable risks in carrying out the attack.

Actually, I also wonder whether the Syrians would take such a huge risk, though pressure from their Iranian task masters could have outweighed the suicidal nature of this potential program.

But whats most intriguing about the strike is what it says about Syrias air defense system. Some claim that the Syrians have one of the most advanced SAM and radar-tracking architectures manufactured in Russia the same one used to protect Tehran called the Pantsyr. Apparently the unstealthy F-15I Israeli aircraft were able to make it into Syria without being shot out of the sky, and some reports indicate that they snuck their way out through Turkey either with permission or without.

Ive heard that the jamming of the Syrian air defenses was so severe that it shut down civilian comms inside Lebanon for the better part of a day. Pretty impressive; and that could be why Iran has been largely silent on the matter it would tip their hand that they are as vulnerable as the Syrians.


Israeli Army Ditching the M4

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

So it seems the Israeli army is dumping the M4 and jumping on the bullpup design bandwagon, fielding a new Tavor-built TAR-21 assault rifle to its troops that looks more like the Austrian Steyr and British Enfield L85 rifle.

This is significant because the Israeli military is one of the only other modern armies in the world that has fielded the M4 as widely as the United States. Its unclear whether the Israelis are changing their weapons because of the M4s notorious jamming problems, or if they were just looking to update their assault rifle with integrated red-dot/laser sighting and shorten the rifle which a bullpup design lets you do because the barrel and receiver is essentially in the butt stock.

But checking out the video, it looks like a pretty good piece of gear to me.

Headshots at 300 yards with a bullpup? The shooter may have been a former sniper, but thats still a tough shot to make standing up with such a short weapon.

(Gouge: WaZinn)

– Christian

Tech Terrible for Israeli Ops?

Monday, November 20th, 2006

One of the biggest concerns about high-tech, so-called “network-centric” warfare was that it would lure commanders into conducting push-button wars — directing action from their wired hub in the rear, while their troops were fighting in the front.
idf_sunset.jpg“In Lebanon, Israels first digitized ground war,” Defense News’ Barbara Opall-Rome reports, those fears appear to have been realized. “After-action probes found egregious cases where commanders relied on [sensor feeds] instead of moving forward to assess critical points in the evolving battle.”

This war underscored the limitations of plasma, especially when it is accorded disproportionate priority over training and discipline, said Matan Vilnai, a retired major general and former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) deputy chief of staff, now a prominent member of Israels Labor Party.
In post-Lebanon War Israel, plasma has become derisive shorthand for the virtual command and control provided through networked operations…
Examples of such dangers were found in the wartime functioning of two critical divisions, where both brigadier generals were assailed for lack of hands-on contact with forces under their command.
In the case of IDF 162 Division, the commander managed the entire war from deep inside home territory, venturing only twice and for very brief periods beyond the Lebanese border. Whether by sheer misfortune or as a direct result of the hands-off command style, the 162 Divisions 401 Armored Brigade and Nahal Infantry Brigade were involved in one of the wars biggest blunders, which claimed the lives of 12 Israeli soldiers.

How Israel’s Drones Fought the War, Part II

Friday, October 6th, 2006

Israeli military chiefs are being taken out to the woodshed for relying on airpower during the summer campaign in Lebanon. “But after-action data and battlefield imagery are revealing great advances in the ability to respond to asymmetric threats,” says Defense News’ Barbara Opall-Rome. Thanks largely to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), “more than 90 percent of the medium-range missile launchers used by Hizbollah were destroyed almost immediately after they fired their first weapon.“

By the third night [of the war], the IAF [Israeli Air Force] attained full operational capability of the worlds first Boost Phase Launch Intercept (BPLI) force [maybe it’s more of a “a search and destroy operation,” as Bill noted in the comments — ed.] a tightly linked network of manned aircraft and UAVs that saturated the airspace to hunt and immediately kill small, mobile, medium-range missile launchers.

It didn’t work against the terror group’s teeny-tiny Katyusha rockets. But Israels BPLI capability did managed to knock out “more than 100 launchers during the more-than month-long war.” UAVs “like the Elbit Hermes 450S Zik, the Shoval (Heron-1/Crusher) and Searcher-2 built by Israel Aircraft Industries” did the lion’s share of the work.

This was the first large-scale use of UAVs, not only for providing a continuous presence over the entire battle area, but in [assisting the direction and delivery of] smart munitions to these very small, well hidden, moving targets, said Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired IAF major general and former director of Israeli defense research and development…
This is not like a targeted killing where we have two weeks to plan, Ben-Israel said. Here, theres only a matter of seconds between the time the terrorists emerged to launch these missiles to the time when they returned to their hiding places among innocent civilians. Those medium-range missile launchers became suicide launchers. They were destroyed either before or immediately after they fired their first missile.

The Israeli Air Force also got better about detecting — and taking out — Hezbollah drones. By tweaking “multiple radars never designed to detect such small, slow-moving, pinpoint targets.… F-16C fighter pilots on air patrol [were able] to blast the [unmanned] offenders from Israeli and Lebanese skies with Python-5 dogfighting missiles.”

According to Israeli military data, Hizbollah launched four Iranian-made Ababil UAVs during the war. One apparently exploded upon launch; another penetrated Israeli airspace, but crashed just south of the Lebanon border; and the other two were downed over the sea southwest of Haifa and near the area of Tzur in southern Lebanon.
Remnants of the downed drones showed that at least one was equipped with nearly 10 kilograms of explosives, which Israeli intelligence sources believe was destined for Tel Aviv. According to officials here, the UAV that crashed upon launch may have carried a payload of up to 50 kilograms.
Examination of cockpit imagery from one of the engagements shows detection of the target at extremely short range close enough for the pilot to actually see the UAV. From an extraordinarily low altitude of less than 2,000 feet and at very low speed, the pilot launched his Python-5, which immediately arched and locked on to its target. Imagery shows the missile maneuvering at nearly 90 degrees for a matter of seconds before blasting the gnat-sized target with its explosive warhead.
This is an historic first for us, and professionals will understand how complicated the mission is. Its not the classic engagement of an F-16 versus a MiG, where you have a competing aircraft and radar. In this scenario, its not plane against plane, but rather network against an asymmetrical target you can barely see, said the senior IAF official.

How Israel’s Drones Fought the War

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

Israel pioneered the art of using drones in combat. So it’s a little surprising that the robotic spy planes got so little play in the accounts of the Sabras’ recent conflict with Hezbollah. Flight International tries to fix that, with a detail-rich report card on how the Israeli unmanned air force performed.

With the outbreak of hostilities on 12 July, the air force focused its efforts on suppressing Hezbollah’s launch capabilities, cutting off its resupply routes from Syria and destroying the fully Hezbollah-controlled quarter of Beirut. UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] served as the eyes and ears for these operations, launching from bases in central and northern Israel and also from landing strips usually employed by crop-spraying aircraft after rockets landed near air force facilities in northern Israel…
Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) sources say the air force’s recently delivered Heron 1 UAVs performed “beyond expectation” during the war, and demonstrated the full extent of the type’s endurance while flying day and night missions over enemy territory. Heron air vehicles flew hundreds of sorties and amassed thousands of flight hours carrying 250kg (550lb) payloads comprising a variety of sensors. IAI says the medium-altitiude, long-endurance vehicle provided unmatched reliability, with no mission aborts.
Air force sources say the Heron was used mainly for electronic-intelligence missions over Lebanon. The service’s IAI Searcher 2s also flew thousands of mission hours with excellent reliability, IAI says.
The air force also accumulated 15,000 flight hours with its Elbit Systems Hermes 450 UAVs in the conflict, flying round-the-clock missions with the type, which had previously recorded an annual usage rate of 10,000h. Three Hermes 450s crashed during the war: two as a result of technical problems and one due to operator error, with air force Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters having subsequently bombed the wreckage. Lebanese sources quoted in the Arab language press say the Hermes 450 was also used for precision attack missions. The Israeli air force declines to comment…
Sources say Hezbollah was ready for the UAVs and in many cases camouflaged rocket launchers, particularly with the use of special “carpets” that absorbed the sun’s heat and radiated it at night to affect the efficiency of Israeli thermal sensors. “In many cases we had to detect the launch flash to determine the location of the launcher,” says an air force source.
As well as highlighting the need for improved sensors, the campaign has prompted the Israeli air and defence forces to work together on an operating concept that will allow their UAVs to combine to provide a more detailed picture of an area of interest. “We will need improved optical payloads for day and night and a joint operational pattern between the Hermes 450 and the Skylark mini UAV,” says one source. Another lesson learned is the need to equip tactical UAVs with countermeasures similar to those carried by manned aircraft.

Israel Wants to Jam Sats

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Back in 2004, the U.S. Air Force suggested that they might be willing to mess with commercial satellites, if they were aiding an American foe. The idea drew howls from outside observers. And, for a while, it seemed destined for an extremely quiet corner of flyboy doctrine.
sat_dish.jpgBut now, the Israelis are picking up where their American counterparts left off, Defense News’ Barbara Opall-Rome reports. Fed up with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV broadcasts — which stayed on the air, despite repeated aerial and electronic attacks — the Sabras are now talking publicly about “disrupt[ing] transmissions of enemy programming carried by commercial satellites.”

No doubt, we understand the power of the media, public opinion and mass psychology, said [Maj. Gen. Ido] Nehushtan, who is responsible for IDF modernization planning. Al-Manar is a liability, and were going to have to improve our ability to counter this threat…
…the only way to ensure persistent, reliable, wide-area broadcast denial is through an anti-communication satellite system. Israel must develop the means to surgically target signals serving Hizbollah without damaging the spacecraft or disrupting operations of other customers serviced by the broadcast frequencies, he said…
[But] according to [an Israeli] executive, jamming a communications satellite is like interfering with civil aviation. You can do it, but its against international law and youll be subject to all kinds of lawsuits.
It is technologically impossible, he said, to selectively jam only those satellite signals that carry enemy broadcasts.
Everything goes out as a single beam, and it is impossible to jam only those channels viewed as a threat, the executive said. If you make the decision to interfere with one [satellite signal], then you must be prepared to face the consequences of the collateral damage incurred to the many other legitimate users of the signal.
Robert Ames, chief executive of the Satellite Users Interference Reduction Group… said it is relatively easy to jam a specific satellite transponder.
Transponders are separated by frequency, he said. All you have to do is know the frequency which it operates on and then put up a signal that is stronger than the programming carrier of the satellite…
Satellite interference capabilities have been around since the mid-1970s, he added. But if the Israelis are talking about technological challenges, I assume they are aiming for a capability that goes way beyond what our companies have experienced to date.

Mystery Munition in Lebanon Strike

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

israeli missile.jpg
One of our insider correspondents points out this AP photograph from Lebanon and raises a red flag:

I am not saying the description is false, but I spent 20 years in the Air Force, much of that time doing targeting and mission planning for aircrews which involved a lot of post-strike analysis. This is by far, the lease [sic] amount of damage from an “air strike” I have ever seen. Even a Hellfire missile does more damage than this, remember the Predator strike on the car of some Al Qaeda operatives some time back? Total destruction of a soft vehicle like this. The only damage, other than minor body damage, I see is a missing sun roof. Thought you might want to add it to your list of possible fakes.

While inconsistent with the effects of large munitions such as satellite– and laser-guided bombs and even, yes, Hellfire missiles, this damage might represent a lucky hit by a helicopter-fired unguided rocket or a cluster bomb … or something far more sophisticated.
Consider: The U.S. Air Force since the late 1990s has had a weapon that disperses guided submunitions (each packing the punch of a hand grenade), each bomb capable of taking out a company of tanks. It’s called the Sensor Fuzed Weapon. Globalsecurity​.org explains:

The Sensor Fuzed Weapon [SFW] is an unpowered, top attack, wide area, cluster munition, designed to achieve multiple kills per aircraft pass against enemy armor and support vehicles. After release, the TMD opens and dispenses the ten submunitions which are parachute stabilized. Each of the 10 BLU-108/B submunitions contains four armor-penetrating projectiles with infrared sensors to detect armored targets.

Defense Industry Daily appropriately calls the SFW “cans of whup-ass”.
Israel is a known consumer of American Joint Direct Attack Munitions and a producer of laser-guided bombs. Has it gotten into the SFW game too, either with American weapons or its own similar design?
If so, I’m not surprised they’ve kept it under wraps. This is a cluster bomb we’re talking about, the kind of weapon notorious for accidentally taking out civilians who might be milling around the battlefield.
–David Axe
UPDATED, 8/11/06: A source from inside the aviation industry says the mystery munition might be a Viper Strike.